No. 3 Ephs clinch top seed despite first NESCAC loss since 2015

No. 3 women’s soccer (13–1–1, 8–1–1 in the NESCAC) clinched first place in the NESCAC regular season with a victory over Tufts on Saturday before suffering its first loss of the season to Middlebury yesterday. 

Yesterday, the Ephs traveled to play the third-place Panthers in Middlebury, Vt., falling 1-0 on an 83rd-minute goal.

The women had several first-half chances, totaling 16 shots in the period to four for Middlebury. The Ephs’ best opportunity came a minute before halftime. Forward Alison Lu ’20 collected a loose ball in the penalty area and hit a shot off the left post.

Early in the second half, the Ephs threatened to score. In the 56th minute, midfielder Natalie Turner-Wyatt ’19 headed a shot on goal, and Panther goalkeeper Ursula Alwang dove to save.

Middlebury broke through with 7:21 left in the contest. From a free kick, midfielder Anna Glovin sent a rising shot toward the upper-right corner. Eph goalkeeper Whitney Lincoln ’20 got a hand on the shot, but the ball went into the net off the crossbar.

Midfielder Victoria Laino ’21 had a shot in the final five minutes, but her attempt at an equalizer went wide of the near post.

Alwang finished with 13 saves, while Lincoln, making her first collegiate start, made two saves. The Ephs finished with a 24-7 shot advantage. Yesterday’s defeat was the first regular season conference loss for the team since Oct. 25, 2015, when the women fell 2-0 at Middlebury.

On Saturday, their Senior Day, the women topped Tufts 3-0 on Cole Field to clinch first place in the NESCAC regular season.

Tufts’ organization was strong early in the game and, with five players in the midfield, the Jumbos prevented the Ephs from keeping the ball in Tufts territory. The women began to create chances, however, midway through the first half. From a free kick, Natasha Albaneze ’18 chipped a beautiful ball past the back line, and Natalie Turner-Wyatt ’19 got a foot on the ball but sent it wide.

Meanwhile, Tufts midfielders and defenders looked to play long passes to forward Liz Reed. In the 24th minute, Reed put in a threatening cross from the left wing. After Eph goalkeeper Olivia Barnhill ’19 palmed the ball away, Jumbo midfielder Sophie Lloyd nearly got to the rebound, but Eph tri-captain Danielle Sim ’18 cleared the danger.

The Ephs went up 1-0 in the 28th minute. Midfielder Aspen Pierson ’21 made a run down the right wing and played a cross in for Kristina Alvarado ’19. Alvarado slid onto the ball, and it deflected into the net off a defender.

Pierson nearly doubled the lead minutes later when she hit a powerful shot from distance. The ball almost went over the goal line off the crossbar, but Tufts goalie Emily Bower Bower kept it out.

The score remained 1-0 until halftime. Creative attacking play in the latter part of the half led to an 11-5 shot advantage for the Ephs. Bower made two saves while Barnhill had one.

Lu created opportunities in the second half, notching assists on each of the Ephs’ final two goals. Williams doubled its lead in the 62nd minute, when Lu made a run down the middle and picked out tri-captain Evan Gancedo ’18 at the right edge of the box. Gancedo took a touch and volleyed a powerful shot over the keeper to double the Eph lead.

In the 64th minute, Lu curled a brilliant ball past the Tufts back line. Alvarado got on the other end of the pass and slotted for her second goal of the day.

The Jumbos had a late chance in the 83rd minute, when forward Mariah Harvey-Brown got a touch on a ball played into the box. Her shot went wide, however, and the Ephs finished the match with a 3-0 shutout, their 11th of the season, to secure the top spot in the NESCAC.

Williams and Tufts entered the game first and third, respectively, in the NESCAC standings, with Connecticut College occupying the second spot, three points behind the Ephs and two ahead of the Jumbos. Connecticut College lost to Bowdoin 2-0 on Saturday, securing first place for the Ephs.

After being held to just three goals in its last three games, the women matched that total in Saturday’s match alone, an improvement head coach Michelyne Pinard attributed to the team’s willingness to take shots.

“We started, frankly, to shoot,” Pinard said. “We had a lot of the ball the previous weekend and just weren’t taking our chances to strike the ball. On Saturday we did a good job of finishing out our attacking plan.”

Gancedo’s 62nd-minute goal was particularly memorable because Saturday’s game was the last regular season home contest for the senior class. Before the match, the Ephs honored their six seniors: Gancedo, Sim, Albaneze, Hanna Kaeser ’18, Kate Sands ’18 and tri-captain Jacqueline Simeone ’18. 

“They’ve been, statistically, the most successful class in the history of the program,” Pinard said. “The quality of soccer that they strive to play day in and day out has set the standard for us. They also have a good time and let others have a good time while striving to be excellent.”

According to Pinard, the regular season title is a great achievement, but the teams best soccer is yet to come.

“I’m thrilled for us to be regular season champions, but more than anything I love this team and working with [the players],” she said. “They make me proud every day. I’m proud of how hard they work, how far they’ve come and the incredible soccer they play. What I love is that each game, we have to solve a different problem. From that, we can add a different element to our game.

I think we’re close [to our full potential], but we’ll see how far along we are in November. The pace and intensity of ‘win or go home’ will bring out the best in this team, and I’m excited to see what that looks like.”

The NESCAC tournament begins on Saturday, and the women will host a first-round match on Cole Field at noon. The NESCAC will anounce the Ephs opponent later today.